4 min read
Rob Cheesewright  (Pinwheel author)

Rob Cheesewright

How long-term carbon removal could save our planet

If we continue emitting greenhouse gasses at our current rate humanity risks going extinct and our planet will be destroyed. We have known this potential fate is awaiting us for decades but have yet to deliver a meaningful approach to limiting global warming. In fact, emissions have risen almost every year since climate change was first identified, causing destructive and often lethal extreme weather to become increasingly commonplace.

A lasting and transformative approach is therefore needed to address the climate crisis. In some form, this will involve removing carbon from the air and burying it deep underground. If implemented at the necessary scale, this offers the potential to revolutionise how we are tackling climate change and help us to forge a path away from disaster.

Below we explore what this process involves and how Pinwheel is helping to fund these game-changing projects.

How have we reached a point where carbon removal will play such an important role?

Despite alarm bells being loudly sounded for decades, we have made almost no progress in tackling climate change. In 2021 alone, worldwide emissions are predicted to surge by 1.5 billion tonnes, the second-largest increase in history and erasing any gains made during the global pandemic.

We are already seeing the effects of this inability to curb global warming play out in real-time. Deadly flooding tore through Germany in 2021 at the same time as temperatures in Greece topped 50 degrees Celsius. This offers a small but terrifying glimpse into our planet’s future if we continue on our current trajectory.

As a result, we have reached code red, meaning that emissions reduction alone will no longer be sufficient to restore the health of our planet. Any strategy looking to effectively tackle climate change, therefore, will have to involve removing excess carbon from the air and locking it away underground.

The carbon can then no longer contribute to global warming, helping to keep our planet at a livable temperature and giving us a chance to reverse our fortunes. This has to happen on a global scale and address both past and current emissions. Extreme weather will still be a feature of our future but adopting this approach will help to curb its intensity and frequency.

There is already debate as to whether the landmark Paris Agreement is now all but impossible to achieve and that global temperature rise will exceed 1.5 degrees by as early as the 2030s. Such a precarious position requires the bold and exciting approach that scaling up and enhancing our carbon removal efforts can deliver - but how does this process work?

How can we remove CO2 from the air?

Carbon is removed from our planet’s atmosphere either by specially designed machinery or accelerating existing natural processes. Machinery is more efficient to set up and will have a far greater impact in a shorter period, so will play a larger role than nature-based approaches in securing the future of our planet.

There are two main forms of technological approaches to removing carbon: direct air capture and carbon capture and storage. Both involve using bespoke equipment to take CO2 out of the air, after which it is transported to a storage site and then locked away deep underground in rock formations.

The only difference is that carbon capture and storage focuses on removing CO2 before it even hits the atmosphere, whereas direct air capture can account for historic emissions. Both will play a crucial role in cutting down the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere.

Whether on submarines or spaceships, this kind of technology has been in use for decades. The challenge we are currently facing in ensuring it can play a potentially course-altering role on the scale required, is lack of funding.

For carbon removal technologies to have the necessary impact, they have to be deployed globally in a relatively short space of time. This will be an expensive process but will deliver undisputable benefits. Increased early funding and widespread adoption will lead to more efficient technology and economies of scale, meaning that more carbon can be removed at lower cost. Removing the barriers to growth could unlock our escape from the climate crisis, and by supporting one of our carbon removal projects such as InterEarth, Vesta, Lithos or UNDO you can help make this a reality.

The ways we can all support carbon removal 

It’s clear that governmental support and cooperation at a global level will be crucial to ensuring the success of carbon removal technologies. Determining how to contribute on a personal level, however, can often seem difficult, especially given the scale of the task at hand.

Our customers provide funding to game-changing approaches to tackling global warming, such as carbon removal technologies. The need for these to play a highly prominent role in the coming decades is abundantly clear, so we want to make sure they have the necessary funds. This is what you will be contributing to by supporting such critical projects.

We can save ourselves from this self-inflicted climate crisis, but time is rapidly dwindling. Extinction does not have to be our legacy, and approaches such as carbon removal are showing us a way out. Let’s work together to make these possible.

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